Of all the potential threats I perceive against the health and well-being of my sons, the most frightening is that just being a male (true for all males between the ages of, say, 12 and 25-years-old) walking down the street puts them at risk.
It seems to be pure caveman instinct on the part of older males to consider just their existence to be a threat. Put that older male in a uniform or in some position of power and authority and just "being" (carrying a skateboard seems to bring out all kinds of additional hostility) can get them approached and set off all sorts of chain-reaction events. I've seen them half a block away from home get stopped and frisked and sometimes sent back home for no reason.
It's dangerous to be female at these ages as well but for other reasons, reasons usually addressed by being in a group. Girls in a group are considered smart. Boys in a group brings out the pepper spray.
I have taught my sons that their very existence is an implied threat. That this is not their fault but it is most certainly their problem. To know that grown women will cross the street but grown men will go into caveman high-alert and things can go very wrong, very fast. I have taught them to 1.) Make eye contact; 2.) Smile; 3.) Be polite and agree -- no matter what.
Yes, it's every kind of wrong but it has been this way probably forever and is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Boys scare the shit out of men. Give the man a gun and/or handcuffs and it doesn't matter how insignificant any actual violation may be -- found because of looking to find -- once a kid is in the system, he tends to self-identify (gangster creed in the peer group is a seductive role to adopt) and stay there. Mistrust of "the man" is an unfortunate survival skill especially when this is the age when boys need men to show them how to be men.
I have been telling my sons before they leave the house for years, "Be safe" -- from actual dangers of speeding cars and stupid choices, and "Keep your head down" which means DO NOT attract the attention of law enforcement or men in trucks or security guards. If you are caught out after midnight, call me and I will come get you. Walking home is the most dangerous thing in the world for them not because of rapists or murderers or zombies but because of cavemen who perceive young men as a threat to their position of authority and respect in society -- be it rednecks in pickups who hurl beer bottles at them or police cars cruising like sharks in dark waters looking for a meal.
I am less afraid for them to be handed pot by a pal than I am for what happens after they are stopped and frisked and the crap is found on them (or them getting shot for trying to not get frisked for the same reason.)
My sons are white and we live in a small town but it is the same dynamic as in Ferguson or anywhere, it seems. One son is off in Oregon now--still getting this same message from society that he is dangerous just for being. The other hasn't been detained or threatened (that I know of) in about a week and is home right now, safe and sound.
Any day it could go either way.
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